Wednesday, October 7, 2015

“You Start to Enjoy Life More, The More You Say Yes to Things"

This is the beginning of a new ICS journey; we are enthusiastic to develop our knowledge and to benefit our partners as much as we can.  Meeting different partners we will be working with in the next 3 months opened our eyes to the fact that there is a lot to do in society, and that it’s really necessary for Palestinian young people to start volunteering and helping in society.

We will be working with:

Al Quds University, which is the only Palestinian university in Jerusalem. After our meeting with the staff we learnt that students are not aware of the importance of learning English language, the 3rd most spoken language in the world.  Previous ICS volunteers worked with AQU and started to help raising awareness among students about the importance of learning English, travelling abroad to study, meeting new people and cultures. We hope we will be able to continue what they started and to encourage students to say yes to new opportunities. 

Figure 1Working on a Video for AQU
Al Hamawi Centre in al-Eizariya town - a really nice place with great potential to improve even more, as they want to add sports and a play yard around the center for children and adults. During our meeting with the staff we learned about the needs of children, parents, and adults in the area. Staff explained different activities they carry out to make the situation better; they also explained the work that previous ICS volunteers did helping in English conversation workshops. They have two main activities: extra curricular activities for children, and English conversation sessions for children and adults. We will be working with them in these two activities as well as working on increasing their local and international outreach.

After our first day working in al-Eizariya Centre, we visited Lazarus Tomb a sacred place for both Christians and Muslims.

Figure 2 Lazarus Tomb - Bethany
 Ruba al Kaloti

Begin your ICS journey in January and continue in this team's footsteps. Deadline is 16th October so apply now - click here

Giving it 50 % + 50 %

“Whatever you do in life, you should spend 50% of your time doing it, and the other 50% spent telling people about it” 

Some wise words from my mother there. More than anything, they sum up two key ideas for me - why we’re writing blogs here, and why we’re here at all.  

This is going to be the first of many blogs which will map our work here at the Youth Development Department and the Burj al LuqLuq centre in Occupied East Jerusalem.  I’m Cat, one of the team leaders on the project.  It’s an honour to be writing the first blog for our team; Israa, Esther, David and Aseel 

I expected Palestine to be a complete change from the work that I was doing in London - a grad in a marketing company deciding what my real life goals were going to be. It’s therefore been a shock, or should I say a pleasant surprise, to realise that the skills I got from that world - the ideas of how to communicate ideas, the time management and the relationship management - are all crucial to the work that we do here in Palestine.  

Because the work we do here is supportive - we are telling stories about Palestine and the organisations that are working to promote the values, rights and spirit of the people here. The few weeks I’ve spent here meeting with and planning for the exciting 10 weeks ahead have been all about communication.  

At the Youth Development Department, it’s not the crucial psycho-social work that needs support, but the communication of that work to the larger public to raise awareness and funds. On both a national and international level, we will be raising awareness of reforms such as Curriculum changes in schools or relaxed laws around drug use in Jerusalem, and how they are affecting Palestinian national identity and culture. 

The team at YDD 

 At the Burj al LuqLuq centre, we’re not playing sport with the kids - they have trained coaches to do that - but documenting this amazing work and making it global. We’ll be critiquing the work that they do so that they can do it better, as well as implementing some initiatives of our own in partnership with other organisations.   

After the stairs....Burj al Luq Luq :)

I’m glad that the skills I’ve gained in a different sector that I thought I would never use again are proving beneficial here. And I’m also really proud of the work we’re doing - we need to maintain the focus on and awareness of Palestinian issues in the world, we’re making sure that the organisations here have the capacity to do that themselves.  

Cat Harris 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

In Jerusalem...

Moving on

It’s hard to believe that our time in Jerusalem is almost over. Before coming here I had no idea what to expect, but I never would have dreamed that I would have such an enjoyable and interesting time in Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I think that it’s safe to say that before coming here most of us believed that we had a pretty good grasp of the situation in Palestine – whether this was through our degree courses, keeping up to date with the news or following debate through organisations focussing on the area. However, since moving to Jerusalem our eyes have been opened to the real problems that face Palestinians everyday, from the restriction of movement through the use of checkpoints or the problems with education and school drop outs.

Through our work at the Youth Development Department we have learned more about these problems, and decided to specifically focus on the problem of school drop outs for the majority of our time here. The Youth Development Department is based in East Jerusalem, just before Qalandiya checkpoint, and is an NGO that works towards developing the knowledge, skills and potential in Palestinian youth. During our time here we have learned that 40% of Palestinian youth don’t complete their education, mostly due to economic problems or clashes with the Israeli authorities.

Filming an education expert in the Old City


YDD tackles problems regarding the youth in Palestine that may never reach the western media, but are still some very real problems affecting everyday life here. We have therefore been working on short films following two young people going through the YDD programme as they go from school drop outs to chefs working in a hotel restaurant and a fully trained mechanic. The hope is that these videos will be used for advocacy work to increase international knowledge of these problems facing the youth in East Jerusalem as well as informing current or potential donors about the work that YDD does.

Burj Al Luq Luq

As well as this, our Jerusalem team has also been working with Burj Al Luq Luq social and community centre. Burj Al Luq Luq acts as a literal beacon of hope within the walls of the Muslim quarter of the Old City. Just off from a busy market street and through alleyways full of rubbish you’ll find a selection of sports pitches and youth facilities that overlook the iconic skyline of the Jerusalem Old City with the mesmerising Dome on the Rock at Al Aqsa Mosque – which the UK volunteers are till yet to visit! Burj Al Luq Luq accommodates various schemes for the Palestinian community in the Old City of Jerusalem. During our time there we have specifically focused on monitoring and evaluating the ‘Jerusalem Ambassadors’ Project, which aims to make efforts to reduce the implications of risks and difficulties that Jerusalemite youth suffer throughout various stages of their lives. This has helped the UK volunteers to once again increase their knowledge of the everyday problems that Palestinians face everyday, with the ‘My Arabic is 100%’ programme dealing with the linguistic challenges of living under occupation.
While we have been here I have been amazed by the hospitality and kind nature of the Palestinians even in the face of daily struggles associated with the occupation. Our team in Jerusalem includes two wonderfully kind Palestinian volunteers – Eman and Amineh – who have been more than happy to introduce us into their culture, whether this is through an Arabic coffee after work or joining them for iftar during Ramadan at Burj Al Luq Luq.  It’s been a completely humbling experience to see this, and I hope that we all use their hospitality and kindness as an example of how we should act upon our return to the UK.

During classical antiquity, Jerusalem was considered the centre of the world, where God resided – and now I know why. I know now that when I go home and hear of Palestine I will no longer think of the ‘war zone’ as my friends and family at home keep describing it. Rather I’ll think of it as home to a beautiful culture, which contains some of the kindest hospitality in the world, delicious food, great friends, and optimism that they will one day break free from a horribly corrupt and hostile situation.

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.

Extract from Mahmoud Darwish's 'In Jerusalem'

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Life behind walls

Hi, I’m Amal (far right). 

I was chilling out and chatting with my friend about her life and work, and at that moment she told me about volunteering with ICS in Palestine. I was excited about the idea and asked how I could join this valuable experience. A few months later I decided to apply and be a part of the programme. It was time to give back to my community. What was so appealing to me is the goal of this initiative: it would allow me to be a part of Palestine’s internal development. Focusing on access to education, ICS is able to make a difference in Palestine and I was very proud to be part of this.

I applied and got through the assessment day and was placed in one of the Jerusalem teams. From the middle of June I have been part of a team consisting of Alex, Guy, Muna and me all working towards one goal: helping local communities. We are based in Al-Quds University and IECD in Bethany in East Jerusalem.

Al Quds University

In AQU we work with the Media Department and the Volunteering Department. With the media team we try to help AQU gain recognition through tackling cases and stories of success and innovation. We also try to raise awareness about the University and the difficulties it can face through our page Al-Quds Without Borders (AQWB).  The name was inspired by the wall that isolates Al-Quds campus from its surrounding community. We have documented policies which prevent access to education. The wall violates the rights of students and inhabitants of Abu-Dis: a Palestinian town in the Jerusalem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority bordering Jerusalem. It is classed as “Area B”.

Al-Quds University has its special tales and stories to be told. In our placement we talked about Abdel Razeq, a student who in total spent 19 years studying due to regular periods where he was denied access to the University. His story of educational struggle was told by him with determination in his eyes. But now Abdel Razeq is a law graduate and researcher at one of the best universities in the West Bank. This only shows us that despite the Occupation, Palestinians are able to thrive and strive as much as possible.  Crossing borders and not giving up, as Abdel Razeq demonstrated, shows the importance of education and his determination to reach his goal. In spite of the challenges and difficulties faced by Palestinians they are still able to succeed and AQWB is a way of them telling their stories.

Working with the media center, we can spread these stories all over the world and show the reality of life as students in AQU.

Aizerieh Children’s Centre

Volunteering with IECD gives us the opportunity to teach English conversational classes and teach the kids of Bethany something new which can affect their future positively. We set conversational classes with a lot of activities to engage the students and let them enjoy their time.

At first many students didn’t show much interest in attending the class because of Ramadan fast; but after coming and attending the class they were happy and enthusiastic. Seeing them happy made us thrilled and excited. Most students joined the class and enjoyed their time. We were able to break the ice by getting to know the kids more and teach them some new terms to use.

With the help of our team leaders we were able to reach our goal and make a significant difference. We were able to see the positive in each situation and overcome challenges. We are hoping to add more for each center during our placements.